“What about your very unique talents… that rare ability you have to yodel while break-dancing?”
How are labels like “talented” and “gifted” changing and how do identity and intelligence relate to being creative?
Those are some of the questions explored by cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman in his book “Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined.”
In her review in Nature magazine, Barbara Kiser notes that “Hearing difficulties and a low IQ score” caused the young Kaufman to be “labelled learning disabled…he presents a convincing ‘theory of personal intelligence’.
“But what emerges most clearly is how all children — gifted, disabled or simply humming with untapped abilities — need a fine-tuned, holistic education to shine in their own extraordinary ways.”
But the acclaimed book isn’t only about releasing talent for children; he addresses what it means to be creative and exceptional throughout life, and how concepts and labels such as “gifted and talented” are evolving.
In one chapter Kaufman writes:
“Does achievement always involve being original? What separates the good from the truly great? Where’s the dividing line?
“By the way, don’t unique life experiences matter? You see the world through a very unique lens. Doesn’t that count at all?
“Or what about your very unique talents? You know— that rare ability you have to yodel while break-dancing. Let’s say you score really low on the SATs, but you can do a mean head spin while yodeling to the tune of “I Want It That Way” by the Backstreet Boys. Does that count at all?
“Must you do well on standardized tests to achieve in life? Where do roadblocks fit in? How do harsh life experiences— such as growing up with a disability— contribute to achievement?”
He adds that “Being labeled ‘learning disabled’ in a school setting can be an incredibly painful experience, but can’t that experience be just the fuel that is necessary to drive someone to make a change in the world?
“I wish I could say I solved all of these mysteries. But the truth is, I ended up with even more questions.”
From the book Ungifted: Intelligence Redefined by Scott Barry Kaufman, PhD.
Here is his video “Creativity”:
Labels like “disabled” or “slow” – or even “gifted and talented” – can have potent and long-lasting effects on self-concept, motivation and achievement, perhaps especially for creative people who are often highly sensitive to their inner experiences, and to reactions from other people.
Deirdre V. Lovecky writes in her article Can You Hear the Flowers Sing? Issues for Gifted Adults :
“Valuing their uniqueness is necessary for gifted adults in accepting themselves. Valuing and accepting negative traits can be a means of freeing energy to deal creatively with life. If the gifted adult is able to accept faults and vulnerabilities, then the positive sides of these traits can come to light. Energy will not be focused on feeling unhappy about self or on denying faults and failings.”
She also declares, “Most creativity develops from the energy found in discontent; using discomfort as a sign that creative energy is available allows for the taking charge of self rather than for feeling fated to misfortune.”
Misfortune and discomfort takes many forms, including abuse and trauma, and many people develop their creativity to deal with those experiences.
See one of my posts on the topic: Creative People and Trauma.
Recognition doesn’t always accompany giftedness
So much categorizing children or adults as “gifted” emphasizes significant achievement: high IQ or SAT scores, being a sport superstar etc – or producing some notable and valued product like a bestseller book, or movie or smart phone app.
And with perfectionism and high levels of self criticism, many gifted and talented people may feel they don’t “make it.”
It can, of course, help us develop a more accurate self concept as a high ability person to garner awards and acclaim, but most creative people do not get much public recognition.
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Continuing on the topic of recognition:
What if your novel remains unpublished, no gallery wants to show your painting, no one seems to want to fund or promote your idea for an app?
What if you never get an Oscar?
[Photo: Colin Firth and Meryl Streep from post We Need Healthy Self Respect to Be More Creative.]
If your creative work of any kind is not applauded or at least acknowledged, does that mean you are not “really” creative?
Cheryl M. Ackerman addresses this idea of recognition specifically for gifted people, but I think her perspectives are helpful even if you were not “labeled” as exceptionally intelligent or creative.
She notes “It is important to remember that just because a person was not identified as gifted when they were in school, doesn’t mean she isn’t a gifted individual.
“In addition, something that may seem as benign as whether or not a person was identified as gifted can have significant effects on the development of his self-concept and self-esteem.
She adds, “While the fundamental characteristics of gifted adults are the same regardless of whether or not they were identified earlier in life, those who were not identified face the challenge of making sense of their gifted characteristics without the gifted label to guide them in any way.”
From her article Gifted Adults.
Author Willem Kuipers comments on this topic: “It is essential for gifted people to be aware of their identity…Additionally, their giftedness influences their identity; positive awareness of this influence is crucial for the development of their potential.”
From post: Admit your gifts: Willem Kuipers on unrecognized giftedness and identity.
He is author of the book Enjoying the Gift of Being Uncommon: Extra Intelligent, Intense, and Effective.
In the Foreword of the book, Linda Silverman (Director, Gifted Development Center) comments: “Even those who were tested as children and placed in gifted programs often believe that their giftedness disappeared by the time they reached adulthood. It does not seem to matter how much success a person achieves—hardly anyone is comfortable saying, ‘I’m gifted.’”
From post The Gift of Being Uncommon.
[One of many related articles: Finding the Gems in the Rough: the mission to identify and serve the unknowing gifted By Sara Yamtich.]
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Believing talent is not fixed, that you can develop creativity
Carol Dweck, a Professor of Psychology at Stanford University, wrote in an issue of the Duke Gifted Letter:
* Some people are born gifted, and others are not.
* You can tell who will be gifted from early on.
* Gifted children should be labeled and praised for their brains and talent.
“All of these statements are accepted by many as true. However, as evidence has accumulated over the past decade, another view has been gaining credence that portrays giftedness as a more dynamic quality that can grow or stagnate.
“With this outlook comes a shift in emphasis from how to identify gifted children to how to cultivate giftedness and talent—a change in focus from measurement psychology to cognitive and motivational psychology.”
She declares, “Genius and great, creative contributions are the product of passion, learning, and persistence. More researchers are regarding motivation as the key ingredient for exceptional achievement.
“Their work suggests that creative genius itself grows out of the ability to sustain intense commitment for extended lengths of time in the face of obstacles.
“They tell us that many well-known geniuses—Edison, Darwin, even Einstein—were ordinary bright children who became obsessed with something and because of that obsession ended up making enormous contributions.”
From post: Carol Dweck on developing creative talent.
A final quote – from my post Creative Obsession:
“The refusal to rest content, the willingness to risk excess on behalf of one’s obsessions, is what distinguishes artists from entertainers, and what makes some artists adventurers on behalf of us all.” – John Updike, about J. D. Salinger.